Tribal case against tobacco cos dismissed in Texas
NEW YORK, Sept 4 (Reuters) - A federal court in Texas late last week dismissed a lawsuit filed by an American Indian tribe against major U.S. tobacco companies seeking reimbursement for treatment of tobacco-related diseases.
The dismissal came a month after a federal court in New Mexico dismissed a similar suit, brought by a pueblo and 44 other tribes, cigarette maker Philip Morris Cos Inc. said on Tuesday.
Both courts found that American Indian tribes should not be able to recoup money for the health problems of their tribe members -- decisions that fall in line with previous federal rulings that dismissed attempts by organizations such as labor unions to recover money for members with alleged tobacco-related illnesses.
In an order dated Aug. 30 and filed on Aug. 31, U.S. District Judge Thad Heartfield in Beaumont, Texas dismissed a case filed by the Alabama Coushatta Tribe of Texas.
On July 30, U.S. District Judge Edward Mechem in New Mexico dismissed a case filed by the Acoma Pueblo and 44 other tribes, nations and pueblos, seeking damages for health-care expenses, New York-based Philip Morris said.
The Alabama Coushatta Tribe and the Acoma Pueblo did not immediately return calls seeking comment.
``It's just a continuation of a clear trend in the industry's favor,'' said Rob Campagnino, tobacco analyst at Prudential Securities, of the two dismissals.
The cases were filed against Philip Morris, the world's top tobacco company, R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Holdings Inc., Brown & Williamson, a unit of British American Tobacco Plc, Loews Corp's Lorillard Tobacco Co. Inc. and Vector Group Ltd.'s Liggett Group Inc., according to court documents and Philip Morris.
Morgan Stanley Dean Witter tobacco analyst David Adelman said it was fair to characterize both cases as secondary or tertiary threats to the industry. While tribal cases are large and could evolve to be ``something problematic,'' the plaintiffs in these cases have not been successful so far, he said.
In the Alabama Coushatta Tribe ruling, Heartfield said the plaintiff could not show it had suffered any injury and noted in his order that the ``plaintiff's claims are too remote.''
In the dismissal of the tribal case in New Mexico, the judge said the tribes' claimed injuries were legally too indirect and remote, adding the tribes were trying to recover monies belonging to the federal government, not to themselves, Philip Morris said.
The dismissals follow a July ruling, when the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, upholding a lower court decision, said American Indian tribes are not entitled to a separate share of the $200 billion tobacco settlement between 46 states and cigarette makers.
Over the past two years, eight U.S. federal appellate courts have dismissed third-party payor cases in unanimous decisions, including lawsuits brought by labor union health funds, Blue Cross Blue Shield plans, public hospitals, foreign governments, self-insured employers and health maintenance organizations, or HMOs, Philip Morris said.
Adelman noted there are several similar cases still outstanding in tribal and federal courts.